Monday, August 24, 2009


The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn struggles, manfully and wonkily, to figure out why Kent Conrad and other Blue Dog Democrats want a health-care bill like the one the Senate Finance Committee is cooking up:

...people making between three and four times the poverty line--that is, families with incomes between roughly $66,000 and $88,000 a year--would get no assistance whatsoever. Families making less than that would still get some assistance, but it'd be a lot less than they'd get otherwise.

The consumer protections would be weaker, too, particularly if there's no public plan... Under such a plan, the Center on Budget [and Policy Priorities] concluded, "families with modest incomes who buy the lowest-cost coverage could face significant challenges if they experience a serious illness or injury, because their plans could leave them subject to steep out-of-pocket costs."

Put aside, for a moment, whether this makes sense substantively. It makes absolutely no sense politically. Scaling down legislation basically means gutting the benefits that would go to the working and middle class. In other words, it would help fulfill the fear many of these voters already have and that opponents of reform have tried hard to stoke: That reform doesn't have much to offer the typical middle-income American.

You can imagine why Republicans might think this is a dandy idea. But why on earth would Democrats agree?

But it makes perfect sense politically. These people are Democrats, but they're selling themselves as people who agree with (an imagined) Joe Six-Pack constituency that Democrats are evil. They know (or think they know) that Joe Six-Pack hears about the evils of Democrats all the time from Rush and from the imitation Rushes, and they're happy to agree with him. (God forbid they should ever offer an alternate narrative of present-day politics.) They also know (or think they know) that enough Joe Six-Packs identify the Democratic Party with the New Deal and JFK and sticking up for the little guy, so they don't actually want to quit the party. They pretend to be proud Democrats. But anything those slickster/hippie/Hollywood/new York/D.C./Cambridge/Chicago Democrats dream up, they have to look down their Middle American noses at -- just because they're sure that's what Joe Sixpack wants.

What this means, of course, is that everything sought by a Democratic president (who will be categorized as an evil slickster by definition, even if he was born in, say, Arkansas) has to be pushed way, way to the right. That way the Blue Dog can say, "The slickster thought he could put something over on me, but he thought wrong." (The Blue Dog also gets to tell Democratic and semi-Democratic constituents that, if a bill dies altogether, or emerges as actually harmful, either it was too liberal-slick or it was actually killed/ruined by Republicans -- whichever works better.)

Unfortunately, the slicksters aren't really very slick. They never start way to the left of what they really want. They never realize, in other words, that the Blue Dogs are going to drag everything X amount to the right, so they should start way, way to the left of where they want to wind up if they know what's good for them.

Blue Dog-ism makes perfect sense politically. It's the alleged liberal city slickers who don't understand politics.

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